Let's party!

12:0AM, Nov 16th 2009

It only happens once a year and your little ones big day is the best ever reason to throw a bash. We show you how to make the most of his birthday

It's been an amazing year for you and your tot, so you want to pull out all the stops to make his birthday party extra special. And, why not? It's a great excuse for a knees-up. Remember, though, to keep it fairly relaxed.

Fun is top of the agenda, but just go with the flow and you'll all have a great time. If you can, arrange the party around your baby's usual routine, and choose a time when he's rested and at his best. An hour for the party will be plenty long enough for his 1st birthday party.

You're my number 1
Hitting the big one is a major event, but more for you than him, so it's a great time for friends and relatives to celebrate. He's learnt so much in his first 12 months, and although he's not aware of what birthdays and parties are all about, he's sure to pick up on the party mood, and he'll love all the attention. Don't invite people he won't recognise, or take him to an unfamiliar place, as he may get overwhelmed. On his first birthday, he'll be happiest in the comfort of his own home.

Nice and easy
Make the run-up to the party extra special by sending out invitations with a picture of your baby on, and keep your numbers to close friends and relatives. 'For Hannah's first birthday, we invited both sets of grandparents round for Sunday lunch,' says Heidi Burkett, mum to Hannah, three, and Austin, 18 months. 'After lunch, Hannah had her afternoon nap while we sat round with a glass of bubbly. Simple, yet lovely.'

Game on
Your little one may not be ready to join in the games yet, but he'll enjoy the party in his own way. Put out his favourite toys and play some music - he'll love dancing with you. He'll love rustling the wrapping paper (more than the presents!) and enjoy looking at streamers and decorations.

Birthday tea
You'll be catering more for the adults than the children at a first birthday do. Keep adult snacks and hot drinks out of reach of the little ones and avoid peanuts and peanut products as they can trigger allergic reactions in young children. Make the drinks and nibbles accessible, so adults can help themselves, leaving you to spend time with your baby. A birthday cake marks the occasion, so stand by to help him blow out that single candle safely, with a big round of applause and a loud rendition of Happy Birthday.

Bag it up
Everyone loves taking a party bag home. For his first birthday, fill the bags with small bath toys, cloth books or rattles. 'We bought a set of musical activity toys and gave one to each guest,' says Rachel Wallace, mum to Neil, 18 months. 'The rattles and jingles kept Neil and his friends amused while we got them ready to go home.'

2's company
For his second birthday, your tinker toddler will be full of energy and enthusiasm. But, he still tends to play alongside other children, rather than with them. For maximum fun and none of the stress, invite just three or four little guests along with their parents and keep the emphasis on plenty of laughter and fun.

Game boy
At two, the games that'll go down a storm are treasure hunts (make sure everyone gets a treasure), disco dancing or follow the leader. A good version of this is to get the leader (you or another adult) to hop on one leg, out into the garden. 'We played 'walking the tightrope' to circus music,' says Gail Hunter, mum to Christy, two. 'We lined up the children and they walked along a piece of rope held straight along the floor with an adult at each end. They thrived on trying not to fall off.'

Food, glorious food
The birthday cake will be the main attraction at your two year old's party, so don't put on a huge spread of savouries - a few breadsticks, sandwiches and crisps will do. Put a mess mat on the floor and sit the tots down so they can see the birthday boy blow out his two candles and sing Happy Birthday. They won't sit still for long, so make sure you have the matches handy and ask someone to cut up the birthday cake while you play host at the table.

Bag of tricks
Fill the party bags with chubby crayons and a small colouring book, a little musical instrument, or a bouncy ball.

3 suits me!
Three is when your little one really understands about birthday so this bash can be much bigger. He now knows all about presents, and he's more sociable - so you have a recipe for great fun. Choose a theme and follow it through with your decorations, costumes and food. Try TV characters, Disney princes and princesses, fairies or pirates.

Playtime
You can go to town with your games this year. Stick the nose on the clown will get everyone giggling. Guide the blindfolded child to reassure him - he'll love it when you take off the blindfold and he sees the clown's nose on the lampshade. Pass-the-parcel is great fun - but make sure everyone wins something or there could be a nasty altercation.

Sleeping lions is another good one. Get the children to lie on the floor and whoever lies still the longest receives a lolly (this one's great for tired adults, too!). Old favourites are musical bumps (when the music stops, the tots drop to the floor - the last one down loses) and musical statues - they'll love bouncing to the music, then freezing in funny positions.

Grub's up
Three-year-olds are messy. They spill drinks, rub icing in their hair and get sticky fingers all over your surfaces. Use non-spill cups or cartons with straws, and stick to easy finger foods -cheese on sticks, seedless grapes and crunchy crackers. 'At Hannah's third birthday party we got the older siblings to help the younger ones thread Cheerios on to red bootlace sweets to make edible necklaces,' says Holly Jones, mum to Hannah, three, and Jordan, five. 'It worked a treat.'

Bag of fun
Great gifts for kids of this age are bubbles, stickers, or a drawing board, plus a few sweets and a slice of birthday cake.

Not in my back yard
If, by the time he's three, the thought of a party at home makes you tremble, book a toddler party elsewhere. Soft-play activity centres come into their own, for example, as they provide invitations, entertainment, a party room for food, balloons and party bags. Charges are from around $10-$15 per child and adults usually stay for free. Check the Yellow Pages for a play centre near you.

5 ways to make it swing!
1 Decorate your house with balloons and streamers. You could even hang up a few fairy lights to give it a magical atmosphere.

2 Don't do it all yourself - let grandparents or other parents muck in, and accept all offers of help.

3 Don't overdo the sugary foods unless you want a wild bunch on your hands. Good alternatives kids will still eat are little boxes of rasins, pretzels, breadsticks with cheesy dips or mini-cheddars.

4 Mention on your invites that parents are welcome to stay - it'll save you and the children stress.

5 Keep it simple - use any money you've spared to treat you and your partner to a bottle of wine when all the guests have gone.

Party animals
Toddlers aren't known for their impeccable manners and tact, but that's half the fun. Here's how to diffuse those fraught moments

* Anticipate them An incident is bound to happen - that's just kids for you, so don't beat yourself up about it.

* Distract the offending toddler 'Jack, look at the lovely balloons, can you count them?'

* Once attention is diverted Comfort the 'victim' with a cuddle and take him to play elsewhere with other exciting toys

Don't forget your camera or camcorder! You'll be busy, so ask another adult to record key moments such as blowing out the candles

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